UA hits the space sciences trifecta in research

2014-04-04T00:00:00Z UA hits the space sciences trifecta in researchBy Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The University of Arizona hit the space science trifecta this year, attracting postdoctoral researchers from three separate NASA-funded programs named for Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble.

Andrew Skemer, a senior research associate at Steward Observatory, will use his Hubble Fellowship, sponsored by NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute, to continue observations of extrasolar planets using adaptive-optics systems on the Magellan Telescope and the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham.

Skemer plans to search for large, cooler exoplanets in both visible and infrared wavelengths, perfecting instruments and techniques that may one day allow imaging of extrasolar planets in the habitable zone.

NASA awarded 17 Hubble fellowships for 2014.

Wen-fai Fong, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, plans an observing campaign of gamma-ray bursts, the brightest and most energetic cosmic explosions, in a variety of wavelengths.

She was selected by NASA’s Physics of the Cosmos (PCOS) program to receive one of 12 Einstein fellowships.

She said she was attracted to the UA by its observational access on a variety of telescopes and by a faculty that was “exceptionally supportive of the research.”

Ian Crossfield, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, will work at the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Lab on the “Spectroscopy and Cartography of Cool Extrasolar Atmospheres,” according to a NASA press release.

He is one of seven researchers chosen for the 2014 Carl Sagan Exoplanet Postdoctoral Fellowships.

In January, Crossfield published the first map of weather on the surface of a brown dwarf in the scientific journal Nature.

Chris Impey, deputy head of the astronomy department, said it is not unusual for the UA to lure multiple fellows, but he doesn’t recall a year when it snared the three top NASA fellowships, which all fund three years of research.

“We’ve never had all three in one year,” Impey said. “We always have anywhere from eight to 11 postdocs, and half are on fancy-name fellowships,” he said.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or 573-4158.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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